By Nate Widom
Samuel stands in front of the mirrors of Studio 1 nearly every day, eager to move and get an amazing workout. For him, this is game time — but also a time to reconnect, support others, and clear his mind. As he works out, he’s in his own world, aiming to get a great workout while simultaneously motivating his fellow classmates.
Many will recognize HAC member Samuel Utz as a familiar face of support and enthusiasm in many group fitness classes. And it’s no surprise with such a routine and determination that he won third place in HAC’s Lifestyle Challenge. However, his road to victory wasn’t easy and involved many ups, downs, feelings of self-sabotage, and challenging dietary adjustments.
Samuel played soccer as a child but became truly interested in fitness when he wanted to clear his mind during college. He routinely went to the gym as an outlet during that time and has continued since. He joined a gym like HAC in Maryland and mostly swam and engaged in cardio.
Things changed when he moved to Delaware three and a half years ago for a new job. The move forced him to leave his former gym behind and find another just like his old one.
He specifically wanted a club that gave him a sense of community. And, as a recent transplant with a sedentary desk job and determination to meet new people, this was critical. “When you’re an adult, you kinda need that relaxation place, a place to kinda zone out, and to me, that’s where the gym is,” Samuel explains.
And once Samuel was introduced to HAC by a friend, he fell in love. “I didn’t even go in,” he mentions. “She just drove me up, and I was like, ‘Yep, that’s the place to go!’ I like how you can be here all the time, and it’s a place that you want to be going to, and you feel welcome.”
As an avid cinema fan, Samuel quickly got into watching Netflix while working out. Before religiously taking group fitness classes, he would roll into HAC to watch a program while doing cardio and stay until it was finished. “If it was a really good show, I would just be here for hours! That was a good motivator for me to stay on that treadmill,” he states. “It helps me zone out and helps me get my mind off of being on a treadmill or elliptical.”
Samuel periodically took a few group fitness classes with his same friend who introduced him to HAC and wouldn’t attend a class without the company of someone he knew. However, that abruptly changed. “I really don’t know what made me start going without her. All of a sudden, I was just starting to do a class every other day.”
Samuel appreciates that his favorite instructors have different teaching styles but share the goal of helping others. He connected with instructors Tina, Helena, Jess, and Judy, just to name a few. He took specific classes with the instructors he connected with most and then branched off into the other classes they teach. Now, he is an unstoppable force.
“The funny thing is, I have my spot. Anyone taking a class with me knows I stay in that spot every class,” proclaims Samuel. His position is very strategic— directly in front of the mirror at the front of the room. This position allows him to tune everyone out because he can only see himself working out and nobody else.
“When you’re all the way up front, it’s almost like, ‘Okay, I’m just seeing myself,’” he states. “’It’s just me and this bar I’m picking up and putting back down.'”
And while he might look serious, he always makes it a goal to motivate others. “People joke that I’m the cheerleader in the class,” mentions Samuel. “I start off the class and I’m like, ‘good luck, everyone,’ but I’m always worried there will be a new person in the class like ‘why is he saying good luck?’”
Additionally, Samuel’s group fitness routine makes him feel the most incredible sense of welcome. “You can do weights, you can do cardio, yet you have the classes included, and we’re all kind of like a community,” he remarks. “It’s nice to see the same people all the time, and you kind of really support yourselves. It’s funny because they all know me at the front desk, and that’s nice because you get a sense of community as you walk in.”
Now, he takes BodyBalance™ twice a week and fills up the rest of the week with BodyPump™, BodyCombat™, BodyStep™, and WaterinMotion®.
Samuel jokes that he lets his anger out in BodyCombat™ but uses zen in BodyBalance™. “It does get very emotional in [BodyCombat™ classes] when you’re punching and kicking yourself in the mirror,” he mentions. “I’m always up in the mirror, so I always joke that one day I’m gonna kick it. But I don’t have the money to fix that.”
As for BodyBalance™ (previously BodyFlow), Samuel feels the class is underrated. “In Flow, you really get a lot of movements and stretching that you don’t do a lot,” he explains. “People forget that you really need to stretch, so you don’t hurt yourself doing these other exercises.”
Samuel was killing it, but things got even better when HAC’s Project Zero Challenge came along. “It’s funny because I never do challenges,” he mentions. “But there was something about Project Zero, and I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s go for it. Why not? What’s the worst that can happen?’”
Samuel not only successfully completed the challenge but also won the grand prize! He won free entry into HAC’s Lifestyle challenge, which includes access to valuable tools such as personal training sessions, a MYZONE belt, and nutrition coaching.
Since he won free entry into such a worthwhile opportunity, he didn’t want to waste it. “I really wanted to put my all into it, not just to improve my health,” he explains. “I was the only one that got that opportunity, so I wanted to make sure I went for it! How bad would that be if you heard the person who won entry into the contest threw it away?”
“When you’re an adult, you kinda need that relaxation place, a place to kinda zone out, and to me, that’s where the gym is.”
And Samuel absolutely didn’t throw it away. Placing third was no easy feat even though he had the benefit of already knowing his way around the gym and the classes he enjoyed. He took a couple more group fitness classes and went to sessions with his personal trainer Rachel Evans to stay competitive in the physical realm.
However, the mental and dietary aspects of the challenge weren’t as easy. Samuel had to resist self-sabotage and needed to change his diet completely.
“I knew I wanted to do well, but I always struggled with weight loss, if I’m being honest, for years,” mentions Samuel. “I feel like I should be ripped with abs at this point in my life! I don’t think it’s gonna happen, but I’m optimistic.”
“The biggest challenge was the eating! I’ll fully admit, I’m lazy as anything when it comes to food,” he says. “I’m a sucker for fast food. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s comfort food. So really cutting that out of the diet completely was a big part of the mission, and I did well with that.”
One of the first dietary changes Samuel made was meal prepping, something he didn’t do much previously. “To me, if it’s not ready in the morning, it’s not happening!” he laughs. He would cook large portions of food, place portions in containers, and eat them only at appropriate times. Samuel also cut out soda, increased water and veggie intake, and decreased the amount of meat and sweets he ate.
Nevertheless, regarding his favorite treats, he strongly believes in limiting foods but not depriving yourself. “I feel like we cut some food out completely, and that’s fine, but if you feel like you’re craving it and if it’s not gonna hurt you, just use moderation,” Samuel explains. “Don’t torture yourself but limit yourself! I don’t need to eat fast food every day, but if I have it once a month, that’s cool, and that’s what makes it special.”
Throughout the twelve-week challenge, Samuel ate well. And he definitely didn’t deprive himself either! Twice he went to his favorite fast food restaurant, Taco Bell, to pick up one of their $5 boxes and their nacho fries.
However, the mental aspect of the challenge really took a toll on him. All Lifestyle Challenge participants must attend weekly weigh-ins to log current weight and body fat percentages. Even though Samuel may have placed third, he still felt ups and downs and struggled with motivation at times.
“Part of the contest is weighing yourself every week, so you’re seeing it right there, that number,” Samuel explains. “And when you don’t see that number go down the way you want it to, it is depressing because you’re like, ‘I’m eating good, I’ve been working out, I’ve been focused. Like, what I am doing wrong?’”
Still, he kept his head up. “It’s very easy to say ‘forget it, it’s not gonna happen,’” mentions Samuel. “But I also know that’s not an option because if you just say, ‘forget about it,’ it’s not like the problem is gonna fix itself.” Samuel’s approach was to take the challenge one day at a time. “I try to stay optimistic, but when it comes to weight loss challenges, you can beat yourself up really easily over it,” he explains.
“Realistically, I can put down on paper what I do and ask someone to describe me, and they’ll probably think I have six-pack abs, and I don’t. But I know stopping isn’t going to do anything.”
Thankfully, he had the support of his trainer, Rachel. “She was amazing throughout this whole process! She was assuring, supportive, and definitely walked me through like this was normal, and it will level out,” mentioned Samuel. “We all know that weight loss is not an overnight thing.”
However, Samuel does have advice for anyone also feeling discouraged about their progress during their weight loss journey. “My advice to anyone is don’t stop, just kinda reevaluate and see is there something that is not working out for you,” he recommends. “Maybe change something for a week or two and see if you see any changes or you feel any different.”
After placing third, Samuel is delighted and is thankful to those who helped him during the process. “I’m very proud of myself. I didn’t wanna let people down,” he mentions. “I told my trainer this. I didn’t wanna let her down. She works so hard, and she really puts her all into this. I saw that, I appreciated that, and I wanted to do well for her as well because I wanted to make sure that she got recognized.”
Samuel continues to keep doing what he’s been doing throughout the challenge and then some. He plans to use the personal training sessions that he won and continue to use them moving forward. Of course, he still occasionally plans to get fast food as a treat. He’d like to try hot yoga and continue the contests HAC holds in the future. In fact, during the HAC Easter Egg Hunt this past April, he won some more prizes.
“For anyone who is struggling with weight loss, you’re not alone. Believe in yourself. Believe in your capabilities. Do not let one day just have you give up. Don’t be your own self-saboteur.”
Samuel views the Lifestyle challenge as just that—a challenge that should continue for the rest of his life.
“I’m proud of myself for all the work I’ve been putting into this contest, and I don’t want to lose momentum,” he proclaims. “Just because the contest is over doesn’t mean everything is over.” Samuel is thinking about trying the lifestyle challenge again but wants to compete in a totally different position with more fitness knowledge and experience.
“I really just wanna say thank you for all the support, thank you to everyone who believed in me,” proclaims Samuel. “For anyone who is struggling with weight loss, you’re not alone. Believe in yourself. Believe in your capabilities. Do not let one day just have you give up. Don’t be your own self-saboteur.”